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Word Count: 1,768
italians are masters of the concrete from the vast engineering projects of the Roman Empire to the gritty manual labor of Renaissance painting and sculpture to our domination of the trade in paving masonry iron work garden ornaments and gravestones in modern America We specialize in the markers and monuments of the messy human transit of birth and death Italians view death in simple pragmatic terms as a physical process to be efficiently planned and managed Our culture is strongly ritualistic with the public theatricality of early tribalism Italian funerals are major events in which despite our reputation for histrionics extreme emotion is allowed only sporadic display The gravity and dignity of Italian funerals predate Catholic ceremonialism and probably originate in the Etruscan death cult whose inspiration may have been Egyptian As an Italian-American I was raised with respect for but not fear of death Italians dread incapacity and dependency not extinction Since the dead are always remembered they are never really gone In rural Italy cemeteries are like parks where the survivors picnic and tend the graves In America family plots are purchased like vacation condos one knows ones future address decades in advance An education in death is part of the Italian facts of life From childhood I was accustomed not only to seeing the dead laid out in open caskets but to kissing the corpses chilly forehead on the morning of burial At home elderly relatives burned votive candles before photographs of the deceased Anniversaries of the date of death recorded on plasticized saints cards are still marked by special Masses and devotions The Italian realism about death was formed by the primitive harshness of agricultural life where food water shelter and sex are crucial to survival Country people are notoriously blunt and unsentimental about accidents and disasters which traumatize todays squeamish overprotected middle-class professionals Bobbie Gentrys 1967 hit song Ode to Billie Joe
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